With an authentic thick flamed maple top and clever electronics that create more of an all-rounder than the traditional double-humbucking solidbody, this Tanglewood is aiming high. Review by Hayden Hewitt
Description: Solidbody guitar. Made in China
Contact: Tanglewood – www.tanglewoodguitars.co.uk
When a brand normally associated with entry-level instruments (at least as far as electrics are concerned) decides to stretch its legs into the more midrange bracket it always piques our interest. The market has shifted considerably in the last decade. Up until only a few years ago you could find a US Strat for around £650; nowadays you’re more likely to find a Far Eastern made instrument. With the competition to produce the most consistent guitars out of that part of the world already resembling an arms race, surely stepping into it wouldn’t be for the faint hearted?
The double cutaway TSB 94 features an African mahogany body with a fixed mahogany neck topped off with a rosewood fretboard. The jewel in the crown is the carved, flamed, maple cap. Where other manufacturers might go for bland pieces or even plain carved maple with a veneer Tanglewood have gone the full Monty with their top measuring some 18mm in depth. It’s a nice piece too, rivalling tops on some far more expensive instruments from more established marques.
The amber burst really finishes it off nicely, bringing the flame to life with a good amount of three-dimensional depth. The finishing overall is very good but there are a couple of spots here and there where you can see the glue under the top coat around the neck pocket and a little around a couple of frets too. It’s not as if these tiny blemishes are eye-catching but they’re there and the general air of quality about the TSB 94 perhaps make them more obvious than they would otherwise be.
The vibrato is designed by Alan Entwistle (who pretty much designed the guitar from the ground up) and it works very well providing you remember it isn’t a locking unit. It has a nice firm feel although a collar or tension adjustment for the arm would have been a nice addition. Tightened fully the arm sits in a rather inconvenient position for picking, and slacked off one turn you can get some clanks and clonks coming through your amp. Adorning the small three-a-side headstock are self -locking tuners. They hold their tune and do what you need but there’s a little bit too much slack in some of them, so you can overcompensate and tune sharp or flat. Like the glue spots this isn’t a huge problem at all but it’s a small niggle which we’d love to see addressed.
When it comes to playability there are no discernible flaws. The neck shape is generous but never bulky and the guitar sits very comfortably indeed whether on your knee or on a strap. Access all the way up to the 24th fret is pretty much unencumbered and where we could find small flaws in other areas it has to be said that the most important area (playability) is right where it should be for the price.
If guitars were judged solely on the amount of different tones they can produce then Tanglewood would surely find themselves ahead of the game. The TSB 94 is loaded with Entwistle Nemesis ASF pickups (the ASF standing for asymmetrical field, with the different magnets producing a less ‘even’ magnetic field than normal humbuckers) which, combined with the three-way mini toggle, allow you to select inner coils, outer coils, or full humbucker. It doesn’t end there: if you pull out the tone pot you activate the Vintage Reality Circuit. Now, we’ve seen this touted as a way to produce everything from ‘acoustic’ tones through to vintage single-coil tonality. We’re not sure we’d go that far, but it’s a great tone shaping option to have on your guitar. With the circuit engaged, twisting the tone knob on one mini toggle setting can provide a wealth of sonic options. Not all are ones you’d use as your main tone, but the texture possibilities are very enjoyable indeed.
In full humbucking mode the TSB 94 is an unapologetic rock monster. Given the pickups are built to a price they have a pleasingly sharp definition; not the whomping bottom end metal heads enjoy, but for rock and hard rock through a cranked valve amp they’re crisp and tight but with enough midrange warmth to prevent it all getting a bit too brittle. The neck humbucker seemed a little overpowering even when we lowered the pickup slightly in the body, but it still gives a nice plummy tone which enjoys plenty of definition if you decide to spool your motors up and spew out some serious notage.
Coil-tapping the pickups gives you some reasonably authentic tones, certainly enough to pull you through any gig or recording session where absolute accuracy isn’t an issue. Bringing the VRC into play gives you even more jangle with the tone pot wound up, with ample hollow snap available, or you can give the tone pot a twist and choose the outer coil and you’ll discover some very appetising, smokey jazz-type tones.
Judged against other guitars in the price range (often with their own OEM pickups) the TSB 94 doesn’t fall short and indeed excels in terms of tonal variety. It’s not the most polished tone, but there’s no nagging sense that we’d want to replace the pickups instantly on purchase. If anything it’s piqued our interest in hearing more pickups from this manufacturer. Best of all it doesn’t appear as if the Tanglewood is trying to tonally ape any other guitar. It might not be stuffed to bursting with character but its sharp rock/blues rock tones certainly plaster a grin on our chops.
It’s got to the point these days where £500 is considered to be ‘lower midrange’ in terms of guitars, but let’s be honest, it’s still a big chunk of change for most of us. Tanglewood have really bust a gut to provide a specification and raft of tonal options which set the TSB 94 apart in this price range, something even more amazing when you consider the likely street price. Yes, there are a couple of very minor flaws and issues but that’s hardly unique to this guitar (or even this price bracket come to think of it) and there’s nothing that would prevent us giving the TSB 94 serious consideration if we were after this style of guitar, even if our budget would stretch to quite a bit more.
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